Posted By Aletheia Photos
During our recent submissions call we were overwhelmed by the quality of work from photographers across the globe.
As a small thank you to some of the shortlisted photographers that took the time to share their portfolios we are running a series of interviews with them to find out more about their work and motivations.
In our first interview Zun Lee speaks with Brant Slomovic.
Brant Slomovic (b.1970, Montreal) began his formal study of photography at age fourteen, and upon graduating from high school was awarded the Departmental Prize in Art. He then quit!
After a lengthy hiatus during which he completed his medical training, specializing in emergency medicine, he began making photographs again. Brant traveled extensively in the course of re-learning his craft. Sometimes, however, one finds clarity closest to home.
At a Magnum Photos workshop during the Contact Festival in Toronto he rediscovered his first passion: documentary photography.
Brant lives and works in Toronto. He had his first solo exhibit of Glengarry in 2011 at the Toronto Image Works Gallery. Most recently he was featured as a Contender in the 2012 Hey, Hot Shot! International Photography Competition and in the Collection at Flak Photo.
His current personal projects include Shinny, which details the ubiquity of shinny Hockey in Canadian culture, and Puja, which explores daily rituals of spirituality in Indian life.
(Images featured in this post are from Brant's Shinny series)
You’ve made your career as an ER physician. In your day-to-day work, you have to make a lot of simultaneous observations and difficult decisions under great pressure. How has being this kind of medical professional influenced the way you see and work in terms of photography?
I don’t necessarily see a direct influence. But there are so many skills you acquire in learning the practice of medicine that inadvertently apply to other areas of life. For me, the most important of which are how to communicate openly, with compassion, with people you barely know, work ethic, and perseverance.
In terms of image making, I really hope I am not as “intense” as I can be in the setting of the emergency department. In critical situations we are trained to shut off emotion to a degree and often things become formulaic, so as insure you address the most life-threatening issue first. I aspire to be the opposite when making images: emotionally engaged and intuitive.
How have things changed for you as you rediscovered your love for photography after you had put your passion aside to focus on building a life and career?
Well, it is sort of like starting over from the beginning, except that I’ve retained a certain amount of my knowledge and experience. Re-discovery can be a fantastic thing though. I realized immediately, when I picked up the camera again, that this is very much a part of who I am and that making images would become as much of a priority as anything else.
Do you have any photographic mentors or masters of the past or present that you feel influenced by? Who are they and what draws you to them?
The short answer is many. When I was first starting out, in my early teens, I was very much engrossed in the masters: Cartier-Bresson, Karsh and Avedon, Eggleston, Jodi Cobb. Now they seem more appropriate for study or historic exploration, as opposed to directly influencing what I do. As for the present, there are so many contemporary image makers whose work I love and in which I find inspiration. Some names that come to mind are: Christopher Anderson, Mark Power, Simon Roberts, Nadav Kander, Massimo Vitali. I think I have said this before, elsewhere, but I am very much drawn to photographers who marry personal work and commissioned work seamlessly.
There are few things more quintessentially Canadian as the game of Shinny, yet as Canada continues to grow and diversify, the notion of what it means to be Canadian also continues to evolve. How do you personally relate to the game of Shinny, and how do you see its role in the formation of a “Canadian identity” today? What did this mean in terms of how you approached the Shinny project?
Shinny, for me, represents my childhood. It’s what we did as kids, all the time, on the street or at the local park, and it wasn’t limited to winter or weather permitting. I’m pretty sure I had a few cases of low grade frostbite from some of those long Saturdays. It was also the way we lived out our childhood fantasies, in my case, playing for the Montreal Canadiens. I think this is not too dissimilar from what so many Canadians have experienced, whether you are Sidney Crosby or a new immigrant to Canada. Which brings me to the second part of the question. I see shinny as something that unifies a whole lot of people. For new immigrants, I think it’s an inroad to feeling Canadian. This is an angle on the Shinny Project that I find particularly interesting, since so much of how hockey is portrayed in the media is as a sport of white men.
How did you select the kinds of subjects you gravitated towards? What caught your eye and was there a certain look and feel you were after? Did this change as the project went on? How difficult was it to approach your subjects and get them to participate?
Much of the project was pre-visualized, so to speak. As soon as I started to work on the concept, I was flooded with ideas and images I wanted to make. Many of those were originally influenced by the rich tradition in Quebec of painting hockey scenes. The work of artists like John Little, Terry Tomalty and Miyuki Tanobe had a strong impact in shaping those ideas. That said, the direction of the project has changed since I first started. I find my own voice and sensibility emerging more strongly as the body of the work builds. Also, I am enjoying the portrait aspect of the project more that I expected. As for subjects, I usually get a good sense of who I’m interested in as a subject as I approach a location and just observe for a while, someone usually declares themselves.
There is an undeniable connection you achieve in your portraiture. Are you more of an interactive shooter? Or do you prefer to observe and let the subject’s energy and personality come through organically?
Well, first of all, thank you, that’s a huge compliment. I really prefer to let people be themselves and try not to dictate to much with these portraits. “Organically” is a great choice of words and something I hope to achieve. If something is not working or I think the scene demands something specific I will may make a gentle suggestion.
Please tell us more about how you operate once you’ve decided to approach a subject on or near an ice rink.
I am pretty upfront and honest in my approach. I introduce myself and tell them about what I am doing. Most people are interested and very open to the idea. Everybody has a story and people love to talk about sport, last night’s game, et cetera. The door opens quite naturally as I am setting up my gear or taking a light meter reading and a connection usually happens before I make the first image.
As you traveled the country to make photographs for Shinny, did you observe any local/regional peculiarities? Did you find different life philosophies influencing how people view themselves with respect to being Canadian? How did this manifest on the ice?
In general, and I know that this is playing into the cliché, but Canadians are really nice. I can’t comment much on regional peculiarities as Shinny Project is quite young and my locations have been limited to a handful of cities or towns. I will just say that I am very honoured that almost everyone I have approached to participate has been totally positive and a pleasure to work with.
What have you learned about yourself during this project, and how have you incorporated these insights into this project?
I learned that I should be bringing my skates and a stick to locations more often. Seriously, I’ve learned how to be more patient, mostly. The images will come, in their own time, as long as I really focus on being present with my subjects and within the space I am making photographs. With experience I think I’ve also learned how to better manage my expectations, specifically when things aren’t happening as I thought, or conditions aren’t ideal.
Can you tell us about other projects in progress, and how you go about working on them? Are they similar in theme to Shinny, or completely different?
The Last Survivors is a documentary work about holocaust survivors. It is dramatically different than Shinny Project. It has been more of a challenge to meet potential subjects and when I do, the entire encounter is so much more delicate and requires great sensitivity on many levels. I am also much more invested in the people and their stories. The story is a focal point of the encounter and I am recording interviews to go along with the project in addition to making portraits. There is an intimacy and trust that I feel I have tapped into with The Last Survivors that I never thought I could achieve. The generosity of the survivors I have met has been very humbling and the stories are just unbelievable.
In terms of similarities, I am drawn to long term projects that examine aspects of culture, whether it be the culture of a small Canadian town, as in Glengarry or the culture of holocaust survivors.